In Depth

Djokovic vs. Nadal vs. Federer: ‘GOAT’ debate, career grand slam wins and big titles

Djokovic overtakes Federer’s record for all-time weeks spent as world No.1

After setting a new world record for most weeks spent as world No.1 in men’s tennis, Novak Djokovic has hailed the competition provided by his “big three” rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

The 33-year-old Serbian, who won his 18th grand slam title at the Australian Open in February, has surpassed Federer’s record by holding the No.1 spot on the ATP rankings for 311 weeks. 

Speaking to the BBC World Service, Djokovic said: “When I started in the men’s professional tennis world 15 years ago, I had two of the highest challenges, which was to overcome Roger and Rafa. Back in 2008, when I won my first grand slam, I thought OK, this is now my time. I’m going to be competing with these guys; I have the ability to win slams. 

“But then, for three years, I didn’t win a major title and I was losing most of my big matches against them. They made me really sit and realise what I need to do, and how I need to improve in order to win against them. 

“They definitely made me the player that I am today. Those rivalries are the ones that were the most impactful on my tennis game and evolution.”

With 18 grand slam titles in his career Djokovic is now within two of Federer and Nadal’s record of 20. The next major tournament is the French Open at Roland Garros which starts on 17 May. 

Who is the ‘GOAT’?

Tennis fans will argue for hours debating the following question: which male player is the greatest of all time (GOAT)? 

Icons such as Björn Borg, Pete Sampras, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors get a special mention in the “GOAT” discussion, but for many people it’s a choice of one of the big three. 

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal lead the way with 20 career slams while Novak Djokovic has 18.

Djokovic has dominated on Melbourne’s hard courts with nine of his 17 slams coming in Australia. Nadal is the all-time “king of clay” with 13 French Open victories out of his 20. And Federer has eight wins on grass at Wimbledon from his collection of 20 slams. 

In terms of “Big Titles” - a trophy at a grand slam, the ATP finals, a Masters 1000 tournament or an Olympic singles gold medal - Djokovic has 59 while Nadal is second on 55 and Federer is third with 54.

Here we look at the career records of the big three GOAT contenders...

Djokovic vs. Nadal vs. Federer: how they compare

Novak Djokovic
  • Nationality: Serbian 
  • Age: 33
  • World ranking: 1
  • Career titles: 82
  • Grand slam titles: 18 (9 x Australian Open: 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2019, 2020, 2021; 1 x French Open: 2016; 5 x Wimbledon: 2011, 2014, 2015, 2018, 2019; 3 x US Open: 2011, 2015, 2018)
  • Big titles: 59 (18 grand slams; 5 ATP finals; 36 ATP Masters 1000 titles)
Rafael Nadal
  • Nationality: Spanish 
  • Age: 34
  • World ranking: 2
  • Career titles: 86
  • Grand slam titles: 20 (1 x Australian Open: 2009; 13 x French Open: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020; 2 x Wimbledon: 2008, 2010; 4 x US Open: 2010, 2013, 2017, 2019)
  • Big titles: 55 (20 grand slams; 35 ATP Masters 1000 titles)
Roger Federer
  • Nationality: Swiss 
  • Age: 39
  • World ranking: 6
  • Career titles: 103
  • Grand slam titles: 20 (6 x Australian Open: 2004, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2017, 2018; 1 x French Open: 2009; 8 x Wimbledon: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012, 2017; 5 x US Open: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008)
  • Big titles: 54 (20 grand slams; 6 ATP Finals; 28 ATP Masters 1000 titles)

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